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Babe Strips Down to Sell Real Estate

LONG BEACH, California – A blazer and slacks just don’t cut it for one local real estate agent.

Realtor Wendy Heath chose to wear a bikini on a billboard she posted earlier this month on Second Street and Claremont Avenue in Belmont Shore. The advertisement is turning heads quicker than a Naples Island open house.

Bigger pictures: Bikini-clad agent

“It’s kind of flipped people out,” said Heath, who reported receiving almost as many calls from Realtors upset with the ad as those voicing support. “A couple of agents are having a fit about it, but that’s because they just didn’t think of it first.”

Heath said visits to the Web site accessible at www.teamheath.com and www.shocktheshore.com have spiked 400 percent since the billboard went up on May 2.

But the large advertisement also led to the 34-year-old mother ending her association First Team Real Estate after it put her and management at loggerheads. She is now with Long Beach Brokerage.

The photo was shot by Heath’s husband, a general contractor, with the family’s digital camera on an Alamitos Bay dock near Bay Shore Drive. Also in the digital photo is Bruiser, the family’s English bulldog, who asks via comic-strip bubble: “got real estate?”

“I’m here to create relationships with down-to-earth people who want to do business with me and appreciate who I am,” said Heath, who lives in the Shore. “More than anything, it’s got people thinking.”

Heath, who has been a Realtor for three years, was with First Team for more than a year before the clash, which sent her and the billboard idea to Long Beach Brokerage when she introduced the concept after rejecting First Team’s promotional ideas.

“When I came up with this billboard idea, I ran it by them just to be courteous, and they said, ‘Oh, no, no, no,” she said, adding that the First Team ads “were totally unacceptable, they weren’t who I am.”

She offered to remove the First Team logo from the ad, but the firm’s executives warned that she would be asked to leave the company if it ran, Heath said.

“Sex sells, but not in real estate,” said Rich Rector, manager of First Team’s Long Beach office. “I’m always somebody who likes people to think out of the box, but I told her she was going the wrong direction.”

First Team came up with three billboards with Heath and her dog that weren’t as revealing, and “she rejected all of them,” Rector said.

“It is absolutely not something that First Team can be a party too,” Rector said said. “It is totally unprofessional. Would you look at this billboard, and ask, ‘Is this the person you would want to represent you in the biggest purchase of your life?”

Rector expressed safety concerns, noting that people can misunderstand the ad as a sexual invitation.

“I think it’s going to hurt her business a lot,” he added.

Thanks to a stint as a personal trainer with 24-Hour Fitness, Heath has a well-toned body and blond hair, but looks aren’t all that she has to offer, she said.

Heath graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a degree in humanities and a minor in business. After college, she worked for IBM in marketing and sales before going into real estate and raising a family of six. (Three of the children are her’s and three are her husband’s from a previous relationship).

In a competitive business like real estate, people are increasingly being forced to find creative ways to get people to remember their names, marketing experts say.

“For her to take a picture of herself and basically to present herself more as a sexy Realtor, I say more power to her because she is basically carving a niche out and making herself more memorable,” said Sean T. Haley, president of the Southern California Chapter of the American Marketing Association. “Will it hurt her sales? I don’t think so.”

Heath is not the first Long Beach Realtor to cast off the conventional, buttoned-down approach.

Sanford, now a national speaker with a self-published book that contains clippings of advertisements from his formidable years as a Long Beach Realtor, earned a reputation from an ad showing he and others on his JTM Brokerage team standing on a sand bar in Alamitos Bay.

The ad, which ran in the Belmont Shore Grunion Gazette, appeared as if the brokers were walking on water. It asked “What else do we have to do to show you we can capture the market share?”

The Biblical reference jostled other Realtors and drew community scrutiny, but that didn’t stop Sanford.

He followed with more outlandish ads which worked “amazingly,” he said, speaking from the Illinois headquarters of his Sanford Systems and Strategies, which he established after leaving Long Beach in the mid-1990s.

Such controversial ads equate to “top-of-mind recognition,” he said. “The problem is everybody has a (real estate) license nowadays, and unless you differentiate yourself, it’s tough to make a living.”

Heath, who turns 35 on Friday, said she believes the “decent amount of money” she spent on the month-long billboard run will be worthwhile.

She said, “It’s hard to market down here.”

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